It’s one thing to read someone’s blog over time. It’s another thing to see them speak in person.

Jeremiah Owyang gave the keynote yesterday on the second (and last) day of the Thin Air Summit,
with a talk titled, "The Future of Media….in the Social Era."

When I heard about the conference last month, it was the fact that Jeremiah was speaking that caught my attention. I’ve been reading his blog since January and it’s become one of my top resources for understanding social media, where it’s headed, and the role it can play in building a community. Key points from his talk:

  • Allow content to take many forms. It’s no longer enough to post something on a website. You’ve got to provide other distribution channels for your stuff to be found, where your audience is, instead of expecting them to come to you. Example: A blog posting is automatically fed to my Facebook account and then becomes a tweet (a posting of 140 characters or less, using the Twitter micro-blogging service). With each successive form, users can add their own commentary, thereby modifying your original intent. I may have posted about my vacation to Maui and someone links to it to talk about how the middle class has become more affluent. 
  • Provide content in bite-sized chunks. Jeremiah talked about long-form and short-form and media snacking. Digital immigrants are used to reading newspapers and research reports. Digital natives are used to texting and scanning RSS feeds. Attention span, even for the over 30 crowd, has gone way down while information overload is a permanent condition. When I asked about the dangers of too much media snacking, Jeremiah replied that we might miss what’s really important. In-depth analysis goes by the wayside. Speed and volume can’t make up for good thinking.
  • If information is power, media is currency. The world used to be about broadcast–television, radio–where one centralized body decided what the masses would hear. Think of the the top down, command and control hierarchy of our major corporations up until the last 10 years. Now think about the world today, where anybody can create an online video, upload it to a free site like YouTube, link to it, and modify it by adding in their own content. And then have it go viral.  This is the bottom-up change scenario that is becoming more possible and more probable. There is a shift in power from the top of the heap to the bottom of the food chain.

For people who love to see data to understand broad conclusions (like me), check out slides 47 and 49 of Jeremiah’s presentation. Fascinating stuff with lots of implications.

What this means for creating a bigger voice:

  • With short attention spans, you don’t just need bite-sized chunks in the Crystallize phase. You need a clear message–what your wisdom is, what’s the stunning result you want to create, how your life story connects with your passion.
  • If you are attracting kindred spirits who are digital natives, you’ll need to show up in a variety of places online. As time goes on, more of anyone’s audience will be digital natives.
  • Dream big, because bottom-up change is becoming more and more possible. One individual can have more impact than a thousand could a hundred years ago.

Besides Jeremiah’s depth of expertise and ability to synthesize large amounts of input on the spot (he’s an analyst for Forrester on social computing, after all), I was struck by two things during his presentation:

  • He uses both sides of the brain, the creative right brain and the analytical left brain, in presenting ideas. A whole-brain thinker after my own heart. (I later found out by re-reading his bio that he was a jazz performance major in college–a boundary crosser in addition to being a whole brain thinker.) Throughout the presentation, Jeremiah used metaphors (jello, shish ka bob, and currency) and stories to drive home his points and then backed it up with data. A quick scan of his slides will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Casual_conference_room2
  • He leads by example in building a community. Communities have power and wisdom. Two examples:
    • Jeremiah opened the talk by holding a controller to advance his slide presentation in one hand and a cell phone receiving Twitter messages in the other hand.  He acknowledged that the real power is not in the slide controller, but in the cell phone. Why? Through Twitter, audience members can now give real-time feedback on what they are hearing in a presentation and have a parallel, digital conversation, delivered in a web browser or via a mobile device. In a tech-savvy crowd, conference speakers can get the thumbs down very quickly and see their audience literally disappear. 
    • Jeremiah made a point of asking for the audience’s experiences, in response to the main messages of his presentation (see slides titled "Community Examples.") With a crowd of social media early adopters, he knew this community had much to offer up with their own anecdotes. Community-builders know that they are the catalyst for conversation, but they are not the conversation itself. The more of an expert you are, the harder it is to open the space for others to join in, which makes Jeremiah’s invitation for input all the more remarkable. (In a similar, but slightly different vein, Dave Taylor gave an example in his keynote, showing a photo of a sign with the words, "Don’t think" painted on it. Underneath, someone else had written, "about her." A nice riff off of a serious message.)

How does this relate to having a bigger voice? If you are serious about communicating your wisdom, your cause, your passion, don’t relegate it to one side of your brain. Crystallize using both sides. It’s a whole lot more effective. And when you are ready to build community, you’ve got to walk your talk. Your attitude about what the crowd knows and your respect for the power at the bottom will make all the difference in how quickly a community will coalesce around your ideas.

My thanks to the co-organizers of Thin Air Summit, Goldie Katsu and Kit Seeborg for putting on a terrific conference. I’ll be back next year.

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  1. Jeremiah Owyang on November 11, 2008 at 12:32 am


    This is by far one of the best session blogging notes that I’ve read of something Ive done. You were so engaged, listening and taking it all in that I really am so pleased that you appreciated the details.

    Thank you for paying so close attention.

  2. Carol Ross on November 11, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Hi Jeremiah,

    Thanks for your kind words and what you give to the community of social media users–from the newbie to the seasoned veterans (if there is such a thing with such a new discipline.) I’m so glad that we were able to meet at the conference.

  3. Carol Ross on November 11, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks, Paul, for your comment ( I also enjoyed meeting you at the Summit and look forward to reading more of your blog. I just looked at a few posts and it fit with what I saw of you at the Summit–observing, asking great questions, and making thoughtful comments.

    See you next year at the Summit!

  4. Jeremiah Owyang on November 11, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Speaking of community, I just posted some videos, learning about Colorado’s well kept technology secret.

    I’m impressed by the community –yet rarely hear of it here in SF, I’m paying closer attention now.

  5. Carol Ross on November 11, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Yes, I saw that this afternoon. Sorry I missed the fun. I’m 10 minutes away from Boulder and I enjoyed seeing some familiar sites from the video. I do hope that you’ll come back to visit again.

  6. on June 15, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Any record of this keynote? I know its really old, but I’ve been looking up older talks and this one caught my eye. Any idea?

  7. carolross on June 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I don’t believe anyone recorded this keynote. It was a relatively small conference (about 100 people in the room), without any big sponsors. You’ll see in the blog post that I reference two of the organizers, so your best bet would be to contact one of them with your question. Hope that helps!

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